Three States Ban Reusable Bags During Outbreak

Authorities everywhere are developing and putting in place policies to slow the spread of COVID-19. Several states, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Illinois, have prohibited the use of reusable bags at grocery stores due to concerns over the virus adhering to their surfaces, while Maine has hit pause on a ban on single-use plastic bags that was about to go into effect.

Proponents of the measures point to research in the New England Journal of Medicine, which reported on the coronavirus’s survival time on various surfaces. The study found the virus still viable after 72 hours on plastic but did not test its longevity on cloth, a common material used for reusable bags. A 2010 study from Loma Linda University and the University of Arizona identified high levels of bacteria in reusable bags. The research was partly funded by the American Chemistry Council, a trade group advocating on behalf of single-use plastic bag manufacturers, however, and food safety experts noted at the time that bacteria is widely found elsewhere in daily life as well.

The CDC has no specific guidelines regarding reusable bags and coronavirus but has advised for several years that the bags be regularly washed. The University of Arizona study found that 99.9 percent of all bacteria on the bags would be destroyed by washing them.

While no concrete links between reusable bags and coronavirus transmission has yet been found, governments at the local level are making their own decisions on whether to opt for single-use plastics. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced he was temporarily suspending the city’s single-use plastics ban ahead of the governor’s statewide announcement. In New Jersey, where 54 municipalities and one county have single-use plastic bag prohibitions, Stafford Township, the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills and the Borough of Atlantic Highlands have all lifted their restrictions during the crisis.

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